Russia: An Encounter that Changed my Life

Founder of Catholic Radio and Television Network Speaks on Revival of Faith in Former Soviet Union

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ROME, DEC. 10, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Mark Riedemann for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need interviews Jose Correa, journalist and founder of Catholic Radio and Television Network and presently the Director of Aid to the Church in Need in Brazil.

Over 20 years have passed since the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches in Russia emerged from 70 years of state persecution to a freedom, which is allowing today a revival of faith and movements towards reconciliation between these churches. Jose Correa was privileged to be one of the first Catholic journalists to work with the fledgling church in Russia after 70 years of state atheism and help establish Church (Catholic and Russian Orthodox) media structures in Russia, which are still serving today. This is the story of his first contact with the Russian underground Church during communism, and his conversion.

Q: Jose, can you tell us a little bit about your first contact with Russia?

My first contact with Russia was in the 80’s. I was working for a Brazilian News Agency and they sent me to the Soviet Union to do a report on the life of the people over there because the media was full of analyses and reports on the political situation. They were interested to see how people were living. My idea was to interview different people from the different sectors of life, workers, students, and young and old. I also thought that I should interview Christians as Christians were persecuted then in the Soviet Union - to see how a Christian survives in an atheistic environment. To make a long story short, I chose a Christian, a young Catholic, Julius Sasnauskas [1], a medical student in Vilnius, Lithuania a former part of the Soviet Union…

Q: Would it not have been dangerous for this person to be in touch with you? I mean if Christians were underground, a journalist coming from afar to be in contact with them…?

Of course, it was but I was so naïve. I didn’t know those things. I went to his house and knocked at his door in Vilnius. His mother was absolutely terrified when she saw this foreign man asking after her son. He had just come back from 5 years in a Siberian concentration camp. He was arrested and tortured because he had formed a prayer group at the university and they wanted to know the other members of his prayer group. He did not reveal the names. One of the tortures was to beat the knees with iron bars to reveal names. Today he cannot walk properly despite various surgeries because of these tortures.

Q: …but he agreed to meet with you?

No, no because of the situation I could not make an appointment. As I said, I arrived there and knocked at the door. His mother was terrified. She closed the door on my face. So I left. It was one of those Soviet apartment buildings. I was outside on the street feeling hopeless. What do I do now? I could not understand what was wrong. Then a bearded young man approached me discreetly and said: ‘Who are you? What do you want with Julius?’ he asked. I told him my story. He told me we could meet him in the forest because it was dangerous to be seen with foreigners in the city. He was being followed and he had to be disguised from the secret police. So we met the following day in a forest outside the city.

Q: What was your first impression of Julius?

It was impressive; coming from Brazil where people are very joyous, open and we do not have many worries, he was very, very serious. Immediately from his first words, I could see that he was a man of deep faith and that impressed me a lot. I talked to him about his experiences. He told me about his torture and life in prison and that he almost died several times due to hunger and extreme cold. He was in what was called a ‘death camp’ in the middle of Siberia because so many were dying during those times. Many Christians, many martyrs died there. After about 30 minutes of conversation, he ended saying: ‘Jose, excuse me, I have to end our conversation now. If you remember the prayer group I mentioned to you? Well during my absence, while I was in the concentration camp, they continued to meet. They are going to meet and have another prayer meeting in another part of the forest. I must go there.

Q: But if I understand correctly, he was arrested and tortured; he almost died because of his participation in a prayer group. And yet he upon his freedom, the first thing that he does is to do re-join a prayer group. Wasn’t he afraid?

This was exactly my question to him I couldn’t understand it. But he said to me: ‘Jose, of course not. I am a Catholic. I am with God. I am not afraid of anything.’ I said: ‘Come on you must be afraid. You were with God and look what happened!’ I must say that at that time I was just a so-so Catholic. I was not very much practicing and for me to see this kind of faith was astonishing. I logically could not understand.

Q: And what was his answer?

He said: ‘Perhaps you in Brazil have a different situation. It is hard for you to understand, but for us, if we consecrate ourselves to God, everything that will happen to us will be good. What could be the worst thing that could happen to me now that I have come back? They will discover me and they will kill me. Is this bad? I will be a martyr of God. I will go straight to heaven. I will be an example to my family, my friends, my people and to the whole Church. This is excellent. Also, I will be in heaven doing all the good that I can do for my family, my friends, for my people. So it is good. What the world sees as something terrible, for us Catholics it is excellent.’ And then he said: ‘If not this, what then? I will be discovered. I will be arrested and I will suffer what I already suffered again. Is this bad? Of course not, because I consecrated myself to God. All my sufferings are offered to Him. He will apply this to help other people. And inside the concentration you cannot imagine how much good you can do. Inside the prisons, you can be an example to other prisoners. You can evangelize them. You might even be an instrument of God to convert them. So what the world sees, again as something terrible could be marvellous. Finally, if I am not caught, I will continue to do what I am doing, which means, I am doing all the good that I can do, which is also excellent. You see? If you consecrate yourself to God, everything that happens to you will be good.’

Q: What was your reaction?

I was, absolutely flabbergasted. At that moment I thought, I would like to be a Christian like this because I could see that they were happy, deeply happy persons. I wanted to be like this. I could see God living in them. So I wanted to do the same. So at that moment I decided to do whatever to help these persecuted Christians and I asked him: ‘What can I do to help you? They said: ‘You are a journalist and the thing we need the most is not money or medicine, nothing of these. We need the Church, the presence of the Church. We need radio.

Q: And so you started Radio Blagovest (‘A Call to Prayer’), later Blagovest Info (the oldest and most respected Catholic and Russian Orthodox press agency in Russia), Blagovest Media (Russia’s only Catholic and Russian Orthodox TV production studio) and Catholic Radio and Television Network. Are all of these are still on-going today?

Yes, all with the aim of promoting reconciliation between the Churches.

Q: We see today how the relationship and the reconciliation that is occurring between the Catholic and Orthodox Church continues to grow. Jose, what is your hope for Russia and the re-evangelization of Europe through Russia?

I am extremely happy to hear lately that several bishops and important figures in the Orthodox Church are saying that a strategic alliance should be made between the Catholic and Orthodox Church to defend our basic Christian values which are under attack from aggressive secularism. I think that this is of enormous importance for the future of the world. Everything unites us, very little divides us. We should work together for a new evangelization of the world, which is in dire need of this. I pray very much that this will happen, and little by little, step by step this is starting to happen.

Q: …history is being revealed?

…history is happening before our eyes. And everybody praying for this and helping the organizations who are working for this are tools in the hands of God for the realization for this fantastic new future where Christ will once again be brought back to the heart of our societies.

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[1] Julius Sasnauskas (source: Economist) was sentenced for anti-Soviet publications and sedition. Sasnauskas was sentenced to one and one-half years in a strict regime labor camp (KGB prison) in Vilnius and five yearsin internal exile (Siberia) under Lithuanian criminal Code Art. 68-1. Julius fell into the KGB’s hands when he was 16. Their trial was held at the Supreme Court in Vilnius on September 15-19, 1980. Fr. Julius Sasnauskas OFM is now a priest and a rector of Vilnius’ Bernardine Church, part of a 16thcentury monastery.

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps," a weekly TV & radio show produced by Catholic Radio & Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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